Gifting your kids the newest tech gadgets this holiday was definitely a cool parent move. But before you claim to be the #MVP and let your child run free with their new handheld, consider preparing your child and yourself for the upcoming responsibility and risks of electronics ownership.
New tech often means limitless games, apps and videos at the children’s fingertips, which may open them up to online issues such as cyberbullying, potential exposure to explicit material, luring, and sextortion. So before handing your kids a virtual minefield to navigate on their own, here are some steps you can take to mitigate the risks they may face while using their new favourite toy.
Learn as much as you can about the device on your own first
- Talk to the provider about all of the different features each device offers and how to use them. Is there a private web searching function? Can you create additional storage pages to hide apps? Are the location trackers enabled?
- If your tablet/phone has a camera, it has a video feature. When used with certain apps this gives kids the ability to connect with strangers through live streaming or on-camera chat.
- Inquire with the provider about apps or software that filter inappropriate content to limit exposure based on age-appropriate settings YOU choose.
Make a game plan for usage
- Lay out some ground rules surrounding what apps are allowed/not allowed to be downloaded and be transparent about the consequences if rules are broken.
- Consider when and where children can use devices. Will they have access to the phone after a certain time? Are devices allowed in bedrooms? Limiting unsupervised device use in their bedrooms is a great way to reduce risk.
- Passwords to the device, apps and email accounts should be shared with a parent but kept private from everyone else.
- Consider if and how you’ll monitor usage. It may be tempting to sneak a peek at teen’s text messages, but it is more beneficial to be upfront with children/youth about what you’re doing and why. Set up a fair routine for how kids use their devices and how to best monitor their behaviour while maintaining a sense of freedom.
Keep the conversation open and stay in the loop
- Have regular conversations about online safety, the apps kids are using, games they’re playing, and who they are connecting with online.
- Also ensure your child/youth understands they can talk to you about anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable without fear of losing phone, internet, or gaming privileges.
- Sign up for Cybertip.ca Alerts to learn about concerning online trends and new resources to increase children/youth safety online. Also, continue to visit ProtectKidsOnline’s blog for the latest information on new apps, quick tips for parents and thoughts on parenting in a digital age.
- Finally, remember, there’s no amount of online filters or safety controls that can replace parental supervision.